Idaho Republican Party’s rule changes have a precedent: The Soviet Politburo | Opinion
The Editorial Board – June 30, 2023
Imagine Rep. Jane Smith voted against a bill to censor public libraries.
Returning home to her rural Idaho district, she is ordered to appear before the Central Committee, where Party officials pepper her with questions. Her answers are unimportant.
The Central Committee announces the decision it made weeks ago: Smith will be cast out, the fact that she won the support of 70% of voters in the last election notwithstanding.
Because the requirement for wielding power is not loyalty to the people who elected you, but loyalty to the party bosses.
This isn’t a scene from the Soviet bloc. It’s the Idaho Republican Party’s immediate plan for running politics in the Gem State under the guidance of Premier Dorothy Moon, a plan it moved at its summer meeting in Challis to begin implementing with a series of rules.
As Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public Television reported, the party passed resolutions that include allowing central committees to summon, censure and even revoke the right of lawmakers to run as Republicans; revoking the voting privileges of the Young Republicans, College Republicans and Republican Women; supporting a constitutional amendment to allow the party to control the primary; and issuing a vote of no confidence in Gov. Brad Little and a number of Republican House members for failing to support library censorship.
The organizing logic is simple: Whatever power there is, it ought to belong to the Party.
Whatever power these ideologically extreme and power-hungry Party bosses successfully take, it will come at the expense of Idaho voters.
If they support the continued existence of some number of grizzly bears or wolves in Idaho, they’ve arguably violated it as well.
Or if they don’t support a return to the gold standard.
Or if they don’t support the repeal of Medicaid expansion.
Or if they don’t support nullifying the U.S. Supreme Court decision recognizing marriage equality.
Or if they support the right of a child who was raped by a family member to have an abortion, or if they think that such an abortion should be handled in some way other than with a murder charge.
For these and countless other examples of crimethink, the people’s elected officials could be hauled in and stripped of their right to call themselves Republicans by a bunch of people that most Idaho Republican voters have never heard of, much less voted for.
With Idaho’s most powerful party fully hijacked, the open primary initiative seems to be the best bet for keeping the political process under popular control, precisely because it would diminish the political relevance of parties. It would allow everyone to weigh in on which candidates will face off in the general election, regardless of party, and it would allow voters to rank general election candidates in order of preference, so they wouldn’t have to worry they’re throwing their votes away if a third-party candidate is their first choice.
None of this would help people the extremist Party has termed RINOs or secret liberals or any of that nonsense. Conservatives would do well with an open primary and ranked-choice voting system because Idaho is full of conservative voters.
Those elected under such a system would know that it was the people, not the Party bosses, who put them in office. They would know it is the people, not the Party bosses, to whom they answer for their record.
Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board members are opinion editor Scott McIntosh, opinion writer Bryan Clark, editor Chadd Cripe, newsroom editors Dana Oland and Jim Keyser, and community member Mary Rohlfing.
Putin says he hopes Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenaries ‘didn’t steal much’ of the billions Russia spent on them
Ryan Pickrell – June 28, 2023
Putin revealed on Tuesday Russia spent billions on Yevgeny Prigozhin and his mercenaries.
He then said that he hopes “no one stole anything — or, let’s say, didn’t steal much.”
Putin’s comment seems to suggest some theft is expected, highlighting the state of corruption in Russia.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday Moscow spent billions on Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner mercenaries, he quipped he hopes they “didn’t steal much” in a telling comment on the corruption running rampant in Russia, as well as potential plans for Prigozhin.
In a meeting just days after Prigozhin called off his rebellion against the Russian Ministry of Defense and his march on Moscow, Putin said that Russia had fully financed Wagner operations between May 2022 and May 2023.
During much of that time, Wagner’s paramilitary forces were engaged in costly, high-intensity warfare in Ukraine, particularly in Bakhmut, while the group’s leader publicly feuded with the defense ministry, specifically the defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, and Valery Gerasimov, chief of the general staff and head of war operations in Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Putin revealed the Russian government spent 86 billion rubles, or roughly $1 billion, on support for Wagner, The New York Times reported, and the Concord catering company founded by Prigozhin, who has been nicknamed “Putin’s Chef,” received roughly 80 billion rubles for supply contracts with the Russian military.
He then hinted at potential consequences for those who may have run off with the money, at least above certain limits. Though he didn’t call out his long-time ally Prigozhin by name, there are indications he could pursue him and others for corruption.
“I hope that in the course of this work, no one stole anything — or, let’s say, didn’t steal much,” the Russian president said, according to a translation from The Times. “But we will certainly get to the bottom of this.”
Corruption is recognized as a serious problem in Russia, where opposition figures with anti-corruption agendas have been jailed for speaking out about illicit operations running all the way to the top. Such was the case for Alexei Navalny, an imprisoned critic of the Kremlin and Putin.
And, in an almost Soviet tradition, it extends beyond just politics into the military as well.
A former Russian air force lieutenant who later worked as an analyst for state media before leaving the country over the war in Ukraine told The New York Times last year, just a few months into the war in Ukraine, “it is impossible to imagine the scale of lies inside the military.”
The man described Russian commanders faking military exercises and then pocketing funds and contractors delivering sub-par systems to skim cash from dedicated budget allocations.
The veteran of the Russian military, Gleb Irisov, told The Times that he saw air defense systems that couldn’t even shoot down small drones, military vehicles that would break down after only a couple of years, and parts on fighter jets that would troublingly melt at supersonic speeds.
“The quality of military production is very low because of the race to steal money,” he said, describing a tradition of problematic rot in the Russian ranks and defense industry.
There is more to Putin’s comments than an acknowledgement of the corruption.
His statement Tuesday on financing for Wagner suggests that the private military company’s employees once celebrated as heroes after their Pyrrhic victory in Bakhmut may still be facing punishment beyond what the Russian leader initially let on.
The full consequences of Prigozhin and Wagner’s revolt remain to be seen.
The Most Nutritious Fish for Your Diet Aren’t the Ones You’d Expect, According to Harvard
Stacey Ritzen – June 28, 2023
The American Heart Association says that adding fish high in omega-3 fatty acids to your diet twice per week can lead to better cardiovascular health, lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke. But while tuna and salmon come to mind for most people as sources of omega-3s, experts are now saying that the most nutrient-rich seafood comes from smaller fish and bivalves such as clams and mussels.
Christopher Golden, professor of nutrition and planetary health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told MSNBC that incorporating smaller fish and bivalves to your seafood diet can help boost not just your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, but also micronutrients including zinc, iron, and vitamin B12 that many people are deficient in.
Another perk to eating smaller fish is that because you’re often consuming the entire fish—skin and bones included—they are also rich in calcium and vitamin D.
“Of all of the different equestrial and aquatic-based foods, small fish are the best source of nutrients for these types of things on a per-weight basis,” Golden explained. “So, although they are underutilized, they’re really good at delivering those sorts of nutrients.”
As such, Golden recommends eating “lower on the seafood chain,” with herring, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops providing the biggest bang for your nutritional buck.
Experts have long-touted the health benefits of smaller fish including sardines, herring, and mackerel. However, another advantage is that these fish are less likely to have higher levels of mercury found in larger fish.
“Eating the smaller fish, you’re more likely to have a lesser mercury load than some of the larger carnivorous fish,” Golden continued. “Bivalves from healthy waters and small fish is really the direction to go.”
Many smaller fish and bivalves also come canned, which makes them convenient for pantry storage and less expensive than fresh fish. Of course, you’ll want to stick to fish like sardines which are packed in water or olive oil and avoid salt-cured canned fish such as anchovies, which are high in sodium and can actually raise blood pressure.
“You can’t go wrong with sardines,” registered dietitian Julia Zumpano likewise told Cleveland Clinic a few years back. “They’re a wonderful source of omega-3 fatty acids, they’re caught in the wild and they’re cheap.”
A mutiny in photos: Inside Russian mercenary group’s march toward Moscow
Yevgeny Prigozhin, leader of the Wagner Group mercenary army, said he turned around to avoid “shedding Russian blood.”
Dylan Stableford, Senior Writer – June 27, 2023
Russian President Vladimir Putin appears for now to have survived what many saw as a coup attempt, striking a deal with Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group mercenary army, which had advanced to the outskirts of Moscow over the weekend.
Prigozhin agreed to call off his drive toward the Russian capital, withdraw forces from the captured city of Rostov-on-Don and leave Russia for Belarus.
But the dramatic show of force left Putin considerably weakened on the world stage, triggering speculation that the episode marked the end of his iron grip on Russia.
Here’s how the weekend unfolded — in photos
The Wagner Group’s band of mercenaries, which had been fighting for Russia in its war on Ukraine, crossed into southern Russia and seized a military outpost in Rostov-on-Don without a fight.
Prigozhin then led his soldiers toward Moscow on a “march for justice“ to remove what he labeled as Russia’s incompetent and corrupt senior military leadership after an alleged strike on a Wagner military camp killed 30 of his fighters.
Putin vowed to strike back hard, denouncing Prigozhin’s rebellion as an “armed mutiny” that would be met with a “harsh” response from regular Russian troops.
“Any actions that split our nation are essentially a betrayal of our people, of our comrades-in-arms who are now fighting at the frontline,” Putin said in remarks on Saturday morning from the Kremlin, invoking the bloody legacy of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. “This is a knife in the back of our country and our people.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the events “yet another demonstration of the big strategic mistake that President Putin made with his illegal annexation of Crimea and the war against Ukraine.”
“I think what we’re seeing in Russia over the last days demonstrates the fragility of the [Putin] regime,” Stoltenberg said Monday. “And, of course, it is a demonstration of weakness.”
Wildfire smoke puts Chicago among cities with worst air quality in the world
It’s the latest in a series of smoke invasions from Canada this month.
Ian Livingston – June 27, 2023
A new round of dense smoke has invaded the United States, specifically the Great Lakes region, as wildfires munch through forests across Quebec and Ontario, with more than 3.7 million acres scorched over the last week in those provinces alone. Throughout Tuesday, Chicago air quality ranked as the worst in the world among major cities.
Minneapolis and Detroit joined Chicago among the 10 worst, all dealing with conditions no better than Code Red. Air quality was even worse in other locations, such as Waukesha, Wis., west of Milwaukee, where the more severe Code Maroon was reached. Grand Rapids, Mich. — which through Tuesday has been between Red and Maroon, at Code Purple — is among places from eastern Iowa through Michigan and into Ontario that have endured air in this bout that is very unhealthy or worse.
Air quality alerts will be in effect into Wednesday or Thursday from Minnesota and Iowa through most of the Midwest, the Great Lakes region, and into parts of the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and the Carolinas.
The Air Quality Index (AQI) moves to Code Orange (unhealthy for sensitive groups) at a reading of 101. Code Red (unhealthy for everyone) starts at 151. Once reaching 201, it’s Code Purple (very unhealthy), and finally a Code Maroon (hazardous) begins at 301.
Wildfire smoke’s primary pollutant is often referred to as PM2.5. These are fine particles from burned organic matter less than or equal to 2.5 microns in diameter — a microscopic soot.
The latest on the Canadian wildfires and smoke
Haze obscures the skyline in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, June 27, 2023. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette via AP)
A thick pall of smoke was draped from Quebec and Ontario to the southwest, toward parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes region, and began moving into the Ohio Valley and points east in the early evening. The worst of it late Tuesday was centered over Lake Michigan and surrounding states. A particularly thick patch of smoke was approaching Chicago from the north late afternoon.
In Michigan and surrounding areas, it was a mix of smoke and low clouds.
Air quality values as severe as Code Purple have been recorded in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois and northern Indiana so far, with an hourly AQI near Milwaukee of 312 and climbing, according to an Environmental Protection Agency monitor late afternoon. The Canadian city of Sault Ste. Marie, on the international border of Michigan, reached an AQI reading Monday night as high as 353, which is Code Maroon. The city was under Code Purple for much of Tuesday.
Many more locations, from eastern Minnesota to the western slopes of the Appalachians, were seeing Code Red conditions. The thickest of the smoke plume had advanced as far east as Cincinnati and Akron, Ohio.
Visibility in the city was down to two miles, with smoke reported from Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The Weather Service expected visibility of one to three miles across the region for much of Tuesday.
“You can literally smell the smoke in the air today in Chicago from the Canadian wildfires,” wrote a Twitter user.
Into Wednesday, smoke should keep slowly moving east and somewhat south. It should remain in the lower Great Lakes and push into the Midwest or Ohio Valley region. Some of the smoke was beginning to spill over into the Appalachians late Tuesday.
Many such days
The number of days at Code Orange or worse as a result of wildfire smoke continues to increase in the northeastern United States, though that number is comparatively low when examined against areas immediately surrounding the fires in Canada.
Many of these days also saw spikes beyond Code Orange.
This month but before the current wave, much of western Wisconsin — in the thick again — had already recorded four or five 24-hour readings at Code Orange or higher. It’s a similar story in and around Detroit, with five Code Orange days in the city and up to seven or eight in nearby locations.
Wildfire smoke, air quality and your health
(Photo by AFP PHOTO / Nova Scotia Government) (Handout/AFP/Getty Images)
The number of bad air quality days may soon increase in the Northeast, as well. The Washington, D.C., region has had two bad air days this month, both Code Red. Much of Pennsylvania and New Jersey and parts of Southern New England have piled up three such days, with a few locations at four or five.
While AQI values in this plume are somewhat lower than they were earlier in the month — when hourly AQI values soared toward 400 in the Northeast — any values of Code Red or above are concerning for the general public.
Smoke’s future travel plans
This round of smoke, like the one June 7-8 that smothered the Northeast, is moving into circulation via a crawling low-pressure area that’s now over the eastern Great Lakes.
In general, winds blow from the east to the north of the low pressure center, pushing smoke westward from the source, before winds out of the north and northwest behind the center push smoke south. As the low pressure inches east, so does the area of smoke it is carrying along with it.
Over the next several days, the low should track through the Mid-Atlantic and offshore along the East Coast. This trajectory is expected to bringsmoke eastward.
Code Red is now in the forecast Wednesday for Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, on the eastern side of the thickest plume. Code Orange is forecast for Syracuse, N.Y., Baltimore, Washington and Raleigh, N.C.
Higher-level smoke will likely cover a larger area from the northern and central Plains, through the Midwest and Great Lakes region, then through the Mid-Atlantic and as far south as Georgia on Wednesday.
The potential for smoky skies could last into the weekend, although it will probably drop in intensity as the pattern shifts slightly.
Top Doc: “Drinking Too Much Plain Water Can Harm Your Health” — Here’s What to Drink Instead to Have More Energy + Lose Weight
Lisa Maxbauer – June 27, 2023
Just about every doctor and nutrition expert on the planet recommends drinking water. It also seems to be the one thing that every non-expert — from the keto meat eater to leafy-green plant eater — agrees on. And it makes sense, considering that our bodies are made up of roughly 60% water. Still, most of us aren’t sipping enough of the right kind of fluids to optimize our bodily functions. And we’re tired, groggy, constipated and dragging around a few too many pounds as a result.
Indeed, when it comes to women in midlife and older, dehydration has reached epidemic proportions. As many as 95% of women over age 40 are dehydrated, asserts Howard Murad, MD, author of The Water Secret. “As we age, stress, poor diet and environmental toxins damage the body’s cell membranes, weakening their ability to hold water,” he explains. “This damage leads to subclinical dehydration and the exhaustion, headaches, brain fog, mysterious cravings and weight gain that follow.”
But as important as drinking water is to our health, proper hydration can be surprisingly elusive—especially as we get older. As our cell membranes become less able to conduct water into our cells, it takes a special kind of water to attain a true state of hydration. That’s where “electrolyte water” comes in.
What is electrolyte water?
Electrolyte water most commonly includes, well, electrolytes — minerals that carry an electrical charge when dissolved in water to help revitalize the cells in the body and optimize their overall function — like sodium, potassium and magnesium. In fact, electrolyte water is becoming so popular that manufacturers are producing versions in hundreds of flavors and variations — and they’re flying off store shelves.
What is liquid IV?
One brand of electrolyte powder that has made an unusually large splash is Liquid IV. The name elicits an image of getting a quick infusion of health-boosting nutrients, much like people get intravenously at the hospital, without any painful needles or pokes. Touted as a “hydration multiplier,” this powdered mineral mix comes in individual packets — also called “sticks” — that can be added to bottles or glasses of water.
Each packet promises to deliver hydration two times faster and more effectively than plain water alone. Tests have also shown these packets hold three times more electrolytes than the traditional sports drinks of our youth like Gatorade. Another of electrolyte mix sticks brand popular among keto enthusiasts is LMNT.
These types of ready-made mineral mixes get a thumbs up from hydration experts. “An electrolyte drink mix made without added sugars would be the first thing I’d recommend to help people hydrate effectively and quickly,” asserts Dana Cohen, MD, author of Quench. Her advice: “Start salting your water, not your food.”
Why we need electrolyte water
Electrolytes play a number of crucial roles inside the human body. These nutrients help nerves transmit electrical impulses and support muscle function, preventing muscle cramps and fatigue. Electrolytes also help the body maintain a healthy pH balance and support the kidneys in their crucial role of filtering fluid and toxins.
Nutrition expert Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD,NY Times bestselling author of over 35 books, including The New Fat Flush Plan, explains, “Minerals are the spark plugs of life and adding electrolytes to water is a perfect hydration solution.”
“When we talk about dehydration, we’re often not only losing water, but also electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which are critical for bodily and cellular functions,” explains Dr. Cohen. “In order to properly replenish what we lose through sweat, we need not only to replace water but to replace electrolytes” as happens when drinking an electrolyte water like Liquid IV.
And it’s not just people who exercise who benefit from electrolytes. The body uses up minerals for countless other reasons — like to process alcohol or sugar that we’ve consumed, or when we’re sick or undergoing a medical treatment, when pregnant or breastfeeding or even traveling or stressed.
Electrolyte water versus plain water
“Drinking too much plain water can flush out vital nutrients and electrolytes from our cells and tissues, actually harming our health and limiting our body’s ability to perform,” explains Dr. Cohen. Researchers have found that our cells have a hard time absorbing plain water to undo chronic, low-level dehydration like the kind we may experience every day and not realize.
In fact, when we lack sodium, potassium and magnesium — as many of us do — we’re dehydrated on a cellular level. And by the time we experience noticeable symptoms like thirst or weaknesses, we’ve already been dehydrated for a while. James DiNicolantonio, Pharm.D., author of The Obesity Fix, agrees with Dr. Cohen, saying, “True hydration is replenishing water, plus lost minerals.”
How electrolyte water helps with weight loss
Replacing the body’s minerals by drinking electrolyte water, like Liquid IV, has another perk: It can control cravings. Research shows that when our body is lacking water or minerals, we feel an extra urge to overeat. Dr. DiNicolantonio says, “We seek out food, like a bag of salty chips, to obtain the salt our body demands.”
Dr. Cohen asserts, “Most of the time, when we feel hungry, we’re actually dehydrated.” But that hunger leads us to reach for food, rather than ultra-hydrating liquids, so we lose the ability to sense what true thirst feels like in the body. And this malfunction seems to only worsen over time. Dr. Cohen explains, “After a lifetime of learning to ignore our thirst, the mechanism goes numb.”
When we replace minerals, however, and achieve true hydration, it leads to effortless slimming. The proof: When people in a University of California-Irvine study added electrolytes to their diet, they shed 56 pounds in 6 weeks.
Actress Donna Mills, 82, legendary star of the television show “Knots Landing,” is a fan of electrolyte powers. She told us, “More and more, I’ve become aware of the importance of drinking water for overall health. I try to drink at least two large bottles of water a day. Playing tennis helps — after every couple of games, I go to the side and drink. Exercise reminds me to drink. I like to put lemon wedges or electrolyte powder in the water.”
How to make an electrolyte water even better than Liquid IV
To achieve the deep hydration only possible with mineral-infused water, you can try Liquid IV packets for yourself buy on Amazon ($24.66 for 16 servings) or you can create your own electrolyte mix to add to water at home. For a time-tested recipe, we turned to health and weight-loss guru Jorge Cruise, bestselling author of more than 20 books. For more than 20 years Cruise has been helping women control their cravings and achieve proper hydration. His secret weapon is his homemade recipe for Zero Hunger Water. Follow this recipe to make this DIY electrolyte mix in bulk.
Combine all the ingredients in an empty water bottle and mix well. Add 16 oz. of filtered water and shake. Sip throughout the day to quell cravings, refilling as needed. Each bottle contains roughly 500 mg. of sodium, 500 mg. of glycine, 200 mg. of potassium and 60 mg. of magnesium. For optional flavor, add 1 packet of TRUE orange, grapefruit or lime crystalized flavoring and sweeten with stevia or monk fruit to taste. You can also add this mix to other beverages such as iced tea or mocktails.
Cruise recommends drinking around 32 ounces of electrolyte water every two hours. As always, women with high blood pressure should consult their doctor before changing their sodium intake.
While three electrolytes — sodium, potassium, and magnesium — in this recipe are familiar to most of us, one thing on the list may sound new: the amino acid glycine. “Glycine improves the absorption of sodium, so it strengthens the hydration abilities of electrolyte water to turn off false hunger,” says Dr. DiNicolantonio. That’s why Cruise has added glycine to his slimming Zero Hunger Water recipe. Cruise finds, “Glycine makes electrolyte water three times more powerful in giving people radical hunger control.”
Real-world proof of the slimming power of electrolyte water
Cruise is amazed by the slimming results he’s seen in his clients who use this electrolyte water recipe. “I think of it as the over-50 fat cure,” says Cruise, who routinely witnesses clients lose up to 2 pounds a day following his hydration advice. In fact, Sandy Rosser, 60, of Fayetteville, N.C, lost 95 pounds with Cruise’s electrolyte water. She shares, “Calorie counting never addressed the root of my problem, which was mineral deficiency!”
Cruise sums it up, saying, “If you’re always craving carbs, sweets or salty snacks, it’s actually ‘false hunger’ triggered by an electrolyte imbalance.”
For more information, listen to Jorge Cruise’s “Zero Hunger Guy” podcast and sign up for his free Zero Hunger Water Club and receive support at ZeroHungerWater.com.
Liz Cheney on what’s wrong with politics: ‘We’re electing idiots’
John Wagner – June 27, 2023
Ex-congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) offered a blunt assessment of her former profession Monday night: “What we’ve done in our politics is create a situation where we’re electing idiots.”
Cheney, who lost her Republican primary last year to a candidate backed by former president Donald Trump, shared her view at an event that was billed as a conversation on the future of the two-party political system in the United States.
Cheney, who co-chaired the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, has emerged as a leading critic of Trump, repeatedly calling him “unfit for office.” In the conversation Monday at the 92nd Street Y in New York, guided by moderator David Rubenstein, Cheney said ensuring Trump doesn’t return to the White House is her top priority.
That prompted Rubenstein to ask whether Cheney would run for president as an independent next year if presented with polling data showing such a bid would damage Trump.
“Look, I think that the country right now faces hugely challenging and fundamentally important issues,” Cheney responded. “And what we’ve done in our politics is create a situation where we’re electing idiots.”
After laughter from the audience subsided, she continued: “And so, I don’t look at it through the lens of, is this what I should do or what I shouldn’t do. I look at it through the lens of, how do we elect serious people? And I think electing serious people can’t be partisan.”
“You know, because of the situation that we’re in,” Cheney continued, “where we have a major-party candidate who’s trying to unravel our democracy — and I don’t say that lightly — we have to think about, all right, what kinds of alliances are necessary to defeat him, and those are the alliances we’ve got to build across party lines.”
The conversation moved on without Cheney directly answering whether she might move forward with a presidential bid if it could damage Trump.
Earlier, she suggested she wouldn’t run for president if she thought doing so could help Trump, who has continued to lead in Republican primary polling despite state and federal indictments.
“I am not going to do anything that would help Donald Trump,” Cheney said.
North Carolina GOP bars promotion of certain beliefs in state government, 1 of 6 veto overrides
Gary D. Robertson – June 27, 2023
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s GOP-dominated legislature swept six bills into law Tuesday with veto overrides, including one barring promotion of certain beliefs in state government workplaces that some lawmakers liken to critical race theory and another placing new limits on wetlands protection rules.
The measures, which also address green investing in state government, consumer loans and local government finances, became law after a succession of votes with margins large enough to overcome Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s formal vetoed objections earlier this month.
Five of the veto overrides were completed Tuesday with House votes, which followed several similar Senate votes over the past week. A sixth veto override effort cleared both the House and Senate on Tuesday.
The state constitution deems an override successful if at least three-fifths of the members in each chamber present and voting agree to enact the bill anyway despite the governor’s objections.
The overrides exemplify the expanded political muscle of Republicans after electoral seat gains last fall and a House Democrat’s party switch in April gave them exact veto-proof majorities in each chamber for the first time since late 2018. Cooper had been able to block several dozen GOP measures over the previous four years with vetoes because there were enough Democrats supporting his efforts.
Several of Tuesday’s override votes in the House included support from a few Democrats. Still, Republicans needed to ensure that enough of their party colleagues were in attendance to complete overrides.
Among the bills enacted Tuesday is the legislature’s annual farm bill, which contains more than 30 provisions such as penalties for cutting down timber, waiting periods for regulators to inspect veterinarians’ offices and the establishment of an official “Farmers Appreciation Day” in November.
Cooper’s farm bill veto came Friday. He said the measure would weaken the regulation of wetlands that help control flooding and pollution. His administration and environmental groups have said the bill’s language, when combined with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, would leave about half of the state’s wetlands unprotected.
Republicans and their allies blunted the impact of the bill’s language on wetlands, saying it would affect largely affect isolated terrain that rarely floods and align standards with federal law.
Another now-enacted law that takes effect in December bans trainers of state employees from advancing concepts to workers such as that “one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex,” or to believe they should feel guilty for past actions committed by people of the same race or sex. It also would prohibit hiring managers for state agencies, community colleges and the University of North Carolina system from compelling applicants for policy-making jobs to reveal their personal or political beliefs as a condition of employment.
In his veto message, Cooper said the bill attempts to suppress workplace discussions related to diversity, equity and inclusion that can reveal “unconscious bias we all bring to our work and our communities.” But supporters of the bill said it actually encourages a diverse set of beliefs within public agencies.
Both the House and Senate voted Tuesday to override the veto of a measure that now ban state agencies from using “environmental, social and governance” standards to screen potential investments, award contracts or hire and fire employees.
On state investments like those in pension funds, the bill says the state treasurer could solely consider factors expected to have a material effect on the financial risk or financial return of an investment.
At least two other states have already enacted laws banning such criteria. Republicans nationwide has raised questions about big business focusing upon environmental sustainability and workplace diversity so much that it harms shareholders and pensioners.
Cooper said in his veto message late week that the measure would needlessly limit the treasurer’s ability to make investment decisions that are in the best interests of the state retirement fund.
Other bills enacted over Cooper’s vetoes in part would raise interest rates and late fees on certain amounts of personal consumer finance loans as well as on consumer credit sales, such as when someone buys a car and pays for it in installments or with a finance charge. Cooper said the higher costs, which would take effect in October on new, renewed or modified loans, would harm residents who already are faced with rising costs of living.
Another bill with a veto now overridden would permit the state’s Local Government Commission to order withheld a portion of sales tax revenues the state collects for cities and counties that fail to complete annual audits of their accounts. Bill supporters said the measure will promote government accountability. Cooper said it was well-intentioned but would likely hurt the state’s smallest communities.
A Wagner ex-convict returned from war and a Russian village lived in fear. Then he killed again
Dasha Litvinovau – June 27, 2023
TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — When Ivan Rossomakhin returned home from the war in Ukraine three months ago, his neighbors in the village east of Moscow were terrified.
Three years ago, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to a long prison term but was freed after volunteering to fight with the Wagner private military contractor.
Back in Novy Burets, Rossomakhin drunkenly wandered the streets of the hamlet 800 kilometers (about 500 miles) east of Moscow, carrying a pitchfork and threatening to kill everyone, residents said.
Despite police promises to keep an eye on the 28-year-old former inmate, he was arrested in a nearby town on charges of stabbing to death an elderly woman from whom he once rented a room. He reportedly confessed to committing the crime, less than 10 days after his return.
Rossomakhin’s case is not isolated. The Associated Press found at least seven other instances in recent months in which Wagner-recruited convicts were identified as being involved in violent crimes, either by Russian media reports or in interviews with relatives of victims in locations from Kaliningrad in the west to Siberia in the east.
Russia has gone to extraordinary lengths to replenish its troops in Ukraine, including deploying Wagner’s mercenaries there. That has had far-reaching consequences, as was evident this weekend when the group’s leader sent his private army to march on Moscow in a short-lived rebellion. Another has been the use of convicts in battle.
The British Defense Ministry warned of the fallout in March, saying “the sudden influx of often violent offenders with recent and often traumatic combat experience will likely present a significant challenge for Russia’s wartime society” as their service ends.
Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin said he had recruited 50,000 convicts for Ukraine, an estimate also made by Olga Romanova, director of the prisoner rights group Russia Behind Bars. Western military officials say convicts formed the bulk of Wagner’s force there.
About 32,000 have returned from Ukraine, Prigozhin said last week, before his abortive rebellion against the Defense Ministry. Romanova estimated it to be about 15,000 as of early June.
Those prisoners agreeing to join Wagner were promised freedom after their service, and President Vladimir Putin recently confirmed that he was “signing pardon decrees” for convicts fighting in Ukraine. Those decrees have not been made public.
Putin recently said recidivism rates among those freed from prison through serving in Ukraine are much lower than those on average in Russia. But rights advocates say fears about those rates rising as more convicts return from war are not necessarily unfounded.
“People form a complete absence of a link between crime and punishment, an act and its consequences,” Romanova said. “And not just convicts see it. Free people see it, too -– that you can do something terrible, sign up for the war and come out as a hero.”
Rossomakhin wasn’t seen as valorous when he returned from fighting in Ukraine but rather as an “extremely restless, problematic person,” police said at a meeting with fearful Novy Burets residents that was filmed by a local broadcaster before 85-year-old Yulia Buyskikh was slain. At one point, he even was arrested for breaking into a car and held for five days before police released him March 27.
Two days later, Buyskikh was killed.
“She knew him and opened the door, when he came to kill her,” her granddaughter, Anna Pekareva, wrote on Facebook. “Every family in Russia must be afraid of such visitors.”
Other incidents included the robbery of a shop in which a man held a saleswoman at knifepoint; a car theft by three former convicts in which the owner of the vehicle was beaten and forced to sign it over to them; the sexual assault of two schoolgirls; and two other killings besides the one in Novy Burets.
In Kaliningrad, a man was arrested in the sexual assault of an 8-year-old girl after taking her from her mother, according to a local media report and one of the girl’s relatives.
The man had approached the mother and bragged about his prison time and his Wagner service in Ukraine, according to the relative, who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity out of safety concerns. The relative asked: “How many more of them will return soon?”
In its recruiting, Wagner usually offered convicts six-month contracts, according to media reports and rights groups. Then they can return home, unlike regular soldiers, who can’t terminate their contracts and leave service as long as Putin’s mobilization decree remains in effect. It wasn’t immediately clear, however, whether these terms will be honored after Prigozhin’s unsuccessful mutiny.
Prigozhin, himself a former convict, recently acknowledged that some repeat offenders were Wagner fighters -– including Rossomakhin in Novy Burets and a man arrested in Novosibirsk for sexually assaulting two girls.
Putin recently said the recidivism rate “is 10 times lower” among the convicts that went to Ukraine than for those in general. ”The negative consequences are minimal,” he added.
There isn’t enough data yet to assess the consequences, according to a Russian criminology expert who spoke on condition of anonymity out of safety concerns.
Incidents this year “fit the pattern of recidivist behavior,” and there’s a chance that those convicts would have committed crimes again upon release, even if they hadn’t been recruited by Wagner, the expert said. But there’s no reason to expect an explosive spike in crime because a significant number of the ex-convicts probably can refrain from breaking the law for some time, especially if they were well-paid by Wagner, the expert said.
He expects crime rates to rise after the war, but not necessarily due to the use of convicts. It’s something that usually happens following conflicts, he said.
The Soviet Union sent 1.2 million convicts to fight in World War II, according to a 2020 research paper by Russia’s state penitentiary service. It did not say how many returned, but the criminology expert told AP a “significant number” ended up behind bars again after committing new crimes for years afterward.
Romanova from Russia Behind Bars says there have been many troubling episodes involving convicts returning to civilian life after a stint in Ukraine.
Law enforcement and justice officials who spent time and resources to prosecute these criminals can feel humiliated by seeing many of them walk free without serving their sentences, she said.
“They see that their work is not needed,” Romanova added.
Some convicts who are caught committing crimes after returning home sometimes try to turn the tables on police by accusing them of discrediting those who fought in Ukraine — now a serious crime in Russia, she said.
Asked if that deters those in law enforcement, Romanova said: “You bet. A prosecutor doesn’t want to go to prison for 15 years.”
Yana Gelmel, lawyer and rights advocate who also works with convicts, said in an interview that those returning from Ukraine often act with bravado and bluster, demanding special treatment for having “defended the motherland.”
She paints a grim life in Russia’s prisons, with rampant and incessant violence, extreme isolation, constant submission to guards and a strict hierarchy among inmates. For prisoners in those conditions, “what would his mental state be?” Gelmel asked.
Add in the trauma of being thrown into battle — especially in places like Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, the longest and bloodiest of the conflict, where Wagner forces died by the thousands,
“Imagine -– he went to war. If he survived … he witnessed so much there. In what state will he return?” she added.
Meanwhile, prison recruiting for duty in Ukraine apparently continues — just not by Wagner, rights groups say. The Defense Ministry is now seeking volunteers there instead and offering them contracts.
Romanova said the ministry had recruited nearly 15,000 convicts as of June, although officials there did not respond to a request for comment.
Unlike Wagner, the Defense Ministry soon will have legal grounds -– laws allowing for enlisting convicts into contractual service have been swiftly approved by the parliament and signed by Putin last week.
And unlike Wagner, the ministry is offering 18-month contracts, but many recruits haven’t been given anything to sign, ending up in a precarious position, Romanova said.
Enthusiasm among inmates to serve hasn’t waned, she said, even after thousands were killed on the battlefield.
The uprising represents the most damning challenge to Putin’s regime in decades. It was only averted when Prigozhin turned his troops back a mere 120 miles outside of Moscow after the Kremlin said it would drop any criminal charges against the former chef, who agreed in turn to be exiled to neighboring Belarus.
But by Monday, that agreement appeared precarious as Prigozhin renewed his rants against the Russian defense ministry and Putin offered conflicting comments about the coming consequences for those involved in the mutiny.
Prior to the rebellion, Wagner forces, which helped capture the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in a bloody battle earlier this year, had been ordered to join Russia’s forces by July 1 — a command that many of the army’s former convicts and mercenaries were not eager to obey, according to Prigozhin, prompting the group’s weekend march toward Moscow in an effort to avoid being absorbed by Russia’s official military.
“We were marching to demonstrate our protest, not to unseat the government,” Prigozhin said, according to a translation of his message.
Putin, meanwhile, addressed the Russian public for the first time since Wagner retreated in his Monday speech, which offered little clarity about how Russia plans to respond to the uprising.
The president praised Wagner troops for turning back and pledged to uphold his promise that those who did so can join the Russian military or seek amnesty in Belarus. But Putin also railed against the “organizers” of the revolt — never naming Prigozhin directly — as traitors who will be “brought to justice.” It seemed to be a reversal of the government’s vow to spare Prigozhin from criminal charges.
Russian state media reported that Prigozhin is in fact, still under investigation, adding even more uncertainty to the legitimacy of the Saturday deal.
Prigozhin’s whereabouts remain unknown, and neither Telegram post nor televised speech have offered any clarity on the future of Wagner’s 25,000 troops who remain armed.